POMONA, CA - USAC Triple Crown titlist J.J. Yeley was named winner of the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy as driver of the year. The announcement was the climax of festivities Saturday night at the annual Auto Racing All America Team banquet hosted by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA).[/intro]
Yeley was not present for the ceremony, as he was battling his way to a third place finish at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, OK. Yeley had problems in his heat race and had to start in the "F Main" event, which he won. He then started from the back of the "E Main," won that, started from the back of the "D Main," won that one as well, started from the back of the "C Main," which he also one and repeated the feat yet again in the "B Main." He was on his way to doing it again when the laps ran out and he finished behind Cory Kruseman and Danny Lasoski. He is the first Titus winner from a category other than Open Wheel, Stock Car, Drag or Road racing.
He was the second USAC driver to win all three of its national championships in the same year, after Tony Stewart in 1995. A major difference was that Yeley dominated all three championships. Stewart won Sprints and Midgets handily, but lucked into the Silver Crown championship. In the final race, points leader Dave Darland blew an engine and was the first DNF; second-place Jack Hewitt wrecked and finished 20th, Stewart was 2nd and won the championship by just two points. Stewart did not win a Silver Crown race all that season, but had 7 Sprint and 6 Midget wins.) Yeley, by comparison, won four Silver Crown, 13 Sprint and six Midget races, plus a non-points Sprint special event, for a total of 24 USAC victories, breaking the record of 19 in one season set by AJ Foyt and since tied twice.
EMPA has also named Yeley as its top driver.
In Silver Crown and Sprints, Yeley drove a car owned by Stewart.
Next year Yeley goes to NASCAR to drive for Joe Gibbs. Which means both drivers who have ever won USAC's triple crown will be racing NASCAR for Gibbs.
The First Lady of Racing, Linda Vaughn, accepted the Titus Award for Yeley. His Horsepower Award, emblematic of his membership on the team, was accepted for him by J.C. Agajanian, Jr., longtime USAC promoter of the "Turkey Night" races on Thanksgiving at Irwindale Speedway.
The 15-member All America Team was honored at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum and the Sheraton Fairplex Suites in Pomona, CA. Drivers attending to receive their awards included NHRA Funny Car Champion Tony Pedregon, NHRA Top Fuel Champion Larry Dixon, ARCA Champion Frank Kimmel, Toyota Atlantic Champion A.J. Allmendinger, Infiniti Pro Series Champion Mark Taylor, ALMS GTS Series Champion Ron Fellows, and Ryan Lewis, the Formula Palmer Audi Champion who was presented with the Gorsline/Human Performance Institute Scholarship.
Dan Gurney was honored by AARWBA as a Pioneer in Racing. Gurney's acceptance speech included many stories of his early days in motor sport, practicing in orange groves that once filled the Southern California landscape, and attending drag races organized by NHRA founder Wally Parks and C.J. "Pappy" Hart.
In addition to Yeley, winner Steve Kinser was unable to attend because he was racing in Australia and other drivers had testing commitments.
The event began with the City of Pomona's Proclamation, read by City Councilman Elliott Rothman, of January 10th as Auto Racing All America Day in Pomona. Racing Information Systems Editor and AARWBA Western Vice President Michael F. Hollander was the master of ceremonies for the banquet.